A Memory | Daily News
The Best Gift of All:

A Memory

Think for a second about your grandparents home when you were growing up. If it was anything like my grandmother's, it was probably a small house with even smaller cupboards. And the cupboards were not that full. And she raised six children in that house! Fast forward to the present. We possess so many things even the spaces under our beds are crammed with stuff we thought we could not live without, at one time or the other in our lives.

Experts say, we have and consume twice as many material goods than we collectively did 50 years ago, but statistically we are much less happy.

54% of us report being overwhelmed with clutter and 78% of us have no idea how to overcome it!

Need I say it, this leads to additional stress: Especially when reports reveal over the course of our lifetime, we will spend a total of 3,680 hours or 153 days searching for misplaced items and that we lose up to nine items every day—or 198,743 in a lifetime. Phones, keys, sunglasses, and paperwork top the list. Of course, there is much more to why we are less happy than our grandparents and parents were, than just the excess clutter, but statistically, it is a contributor, and an easy one to address.

Especially now that the season of giving is upon us and we are all struggling with finding the perfect material gift for everyone in our lives. There are those who already have everything, those who want everything and those who want nothing at all. How are we, as gift-givers, supposed to maneuver our way through the holiday madness without going mad ourselves?

The answer: Give the gift of experience. Go beyond the ordinary, past the latest and greatest new product and give someone the gift of a memory, a gift that truly lasts (and won't take up closet space).

Trust me, if you especially want to make someone happy this festive season, you are doing the right thing in investing in gifting experiences. Many studies have shown that material possessions do not equal happiness and that experiences are much more intrinsically fulfilling than things.

A researcher named Thomas Gilovich at Cornell University has spent more than a decade trying to understand why experiences have the ability to contribute to happiness so much more than material purchases. Along with another researcher, Matthew Killingsworth, he recently published his research in the Journal of Psychological Science showing that experiences provide more lasting happiness than material possessions.

The basic conclusion was that people tend to get less happy with material purchases over time, and more happy with experiences. They speculate that this is because we adapt to physical things, so even the nicest car or newest phone becomes commonplace after a certain period, while memories tend to get fonder as the years go by.

“Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods,” says Gilovich. “You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences.”

According to Cindy Chan, an assistant professor in University of Texas experiential gifts are more effective than material gifts at improving relationships too, from the recipient's perspective. "The reason experiential gifts are more socially connecting is that they tend to be more emotionally evocative," says Chan, an expert on consumer relationships. "An experiential gift elicits a strong emotional response when a recipient consumes it - like the fear and awe of a safari adventure, the excitement of a rock concert or the calmness of a spa - and is more intensely emotional than a material possession."

When you think about it you realize even the anticipation leading up to a trip, event, or experience has the potential to provide happiness itself, making it the gift that truly keeps on giving. Happiness in the anticipation, happiness during the experience and happiness in the memories.

So, this holiday season we could perhaps stop giving material gifts to each other and instead pool our money to give gifts to the children in an orphanage or the aged in an Elders Home. Instead of spending 10 minutes rapidly tearing through wrapping paper, we could experience the joys of bringing a smile onto the lips of the lonely and the needy by spending a full day with them.

Do keep in mind that as important as shared experiences are for adults, they are even more important for children and for healthy psychological development. In fact, shared family time (even in simple things like family dinner together) during these holidays is drastically important for a child’s well being (much more than an expensive toy, chocolates or cakes). Shared family time and experiences have been linked to: Bonding within the family, fewer behavioral problems in children, a stronger sense of identity, a sense of security, and even higher rates of academic success. Of course, these shared experiences can be as simple as time spent together while preparing meals, or reading stories before bed, but prioritizing experiences as gifts (a library membership, a visit to the National Museum) helps reduce unwanted material items and fosters family bonding.

So, whoever you are shopping for this holiday season, there are a plethora of great experiences waiting to be gifted. Give the gift of memories to be made.

Isn't it amazing, Aristotle had it right all those years ago: “men fancy that external goods are the cause of happiness (but) leisure of itself gives pleasure and happiness and enjoyment in life.”



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